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8 Fun Games to End Bedtime Struggles

Who says bedtime has to be a struggle? With these eight ideas, you can disguise your get-them-to-sleep agenda in a cloak of fun, squeeze in precious family time (even during the week!), and lead everyone from a relaxing evening to sweet dreams. Just turn the page, and let the hoopla begin!

1 The Pajama Walk

Fresh air can be invigorating for you at the same time that it's exhausting for your child; in other words, a perfect before-bedtime combo. Susan Reichert of Euclid, OH, has been walking with her son in the evenings since babyhood, in all but the most frigid conditions. Over the years, Connor has progressed from cooing in his stroller to riding his bike while Mom and Dad walk briskly alongside him. "It's a great way for my husband and me to talk, and for Connor to get some exercise," she says. My own family's nightly strolls were so much a part of our evening that if the hour was late and the walk looked threatened, my youngest would consent to getting completely ready for bed, then being pulled in a blanket-cushioned wagon in her pj's while we all talked about our day.

2 Lights-Out!

Bedtime rituals can create lasting memories for kids, either because they're repeated nightly or because they're a dramatic departure from the norm. A friend of mine still remembers his parents' occasionally springing this sneaky ploy on his family: To set a quiet mood, they simply turned out all the lights early, starting the evening with a candlelit supper followed by a low-light bath. Then all family members were supplied with flashlights for stories by battery power, as well as treated to a show of hand shadows before bed. We sometimes turn the lights down low during bathtime; the combination of warm water and dim light is so relaxing that my ordinarily sleep-resistant daughter has been known to beg for bed afterward. Encourage older kids to shower with the lights dimmed before bed, which has the added benefit of saving time in the morning.

3 A Special Snack

A bedtime snack is often essential for small kids, so why not turn it into a special incentive? A friend invented an indoor marshmallow roast one rainy summer evening. She darkened the room and lit a candle. Then, under her close supervision, her daughter, Anna, held marshmallows skewered on a cooking fork over the flame to brown and plopped them on graham crackers. This has been a great pre-bed activity: The snack is quiet and ritualistic to prepare, and even too-cool tweens are not immune to the powers of burned sugar.

4 Here's Looking at You!

Looking through family photo albums is relaxing, but it may not hold a sleepy child's interest. Turn it into a game of I Spy, and you'll have a captivated audience. Toddlers will be able to point to people and objects as you look at each page. Pre-schoolers will enjoy turning the pages to follow a request like "Find Daddy in a lion costume" or "Find Mommy holding a puppy." Middle-schoolers will enjoy searching for "the only photo in existence of Aunt Ida smiling" or "the worst hairstyle Mom's ever had."